Balance. Moderation. Truth. Love. Faithfulness. Wholeness.
These words are what come to mind when I think about trying to maintain equilibrium in my life. They are what come to mind when I think about what we strive for when we seek to avoid extremism.
I’ve talked about wild overcorrections in conversations with Chrissy and others. It is how I see the unfolding story of human history in general, and of church history in particular.
It reminds me of when I was 17. My friend Josh and I were in the car driving to meet up with some friends and I accidentally allowed the right side tires to leave the pavement. In my attempt to solve an obvious problem, I turned too far to the left which left us heading through the opposite lane and toward the shoulder on the other side of the road. Fortunately, I realized I was now heading too far to the left, and I turned back to the right. Unfortunately, that correction also went too far, and I ended up careening off the road, roll the car upside-down and back again, barely missing some boulders on one side and a big tree on the other. It was the best example in my life of making matters worse by correcting too far in an attempt to avoid a problem.
That is the essence of church history.
As far as I can tell, part of the problem is that the problems are only problems because they are extreme versions of good things. For instance, one of the big ones I take issue with is Calvinism. I agree, God is sovereign. I agree, God is in control. I agree, we have been chosen by God. I agree, God loved us first before we loved him. The problem is not that Calvinists believe bad things but that they hyperfocus on these things and forget other equally important truths that belong to God just as much as the ones they acknowledge.
They take truths and filter them through other extreme perspectives like the individualism of Western culture (Arminians do this too, which is why they also are missing the point) and they consciously avoid aspects of the truth dear to their opponents. Instead of a whole, healthy, and robust truth, they are left with a husk of dogmatic formulas only good for writing textbooks.
The point is that we have a tendency, I have a tendency, to forget half of what I know because it is easier to rest in a two-dimensional version of reality than it is to climb, dive, and wade through the complexity of real, messy truth.
We create artificial dichotomies. For instance, ministry=paid-pastor-in-a- local-congregation-with-a-building-and-weekly-preaching-and-music. Right? So, not being a paid-pastor-in-a- local-congregation-with-a-building-and-weekly-preaching-and-music=not-being-in-ministry. Right? No… I don’t think so, but it is something I have unconsciously believed. It is a falsehood I created from assumptions and fears.
A deadly false dichotomy the church has created is that either we are a church that values biblical study, genuine prayer, personal growth, spreading the gospel message, godly character, and healthy behavior OR we are a church that values literary study, ritual, societal change, social justice, love for all people, and kind compassion. Somehow we have allowed ourselves to believe these sets of values are mutually exclusive.
Bringing that same misconception into the sphere of a small group, local congregation, or even the life of an individual, it means that pursuing a life that is faithful to following Jesus either means studying hard, praying alone a lot, and behaving in appropriate and proper ways as sanctioned by a particular understanding of Scripture, or it means being involved in activism, serving in tangible ways, and allowing people to behave in certain ways as sanctioned by a particular understanding of Scripture.
The problem is that both sides are overcorrections. Both sides are aiming to include good things, Jesus things. Both sides are struggling to avoid the mistakes that others have made. Both sides are well-intentioned. And both sides are wrong.
True worship of the infinite God must involve worship with everything we are and have. As God’s image and his people, we are diverse and bring perspectives, gifts, and resources to the table that help to point to the vast character of who God is.
That is true of individuals, and it is true of the church. We need people whose focus and strength is in studying the Bible. We need people who study science, literature, language, medicine, and any number of other things. We need people whose strength is in inward contemplation. We need people who serve the poor and the marginalized. We need people who help guide and care for Christians, and we need those who bring Jesus to people who don’t yet know him.
We need those who work to build peace and those who fight to overcome evil. Order and thoughtfulness as well as spontaneity and decisive action. Building strong inner character and faithfully living to make a difference in the world.
They are all ways to worship God. They are all part of the pattern of God’s people. They all reflect God’s image. They can all become a crutch, and they can all become an idol.
It is natural to favor activities and pursuits that come more easily, fit more readily with our personalities and preferences. It is normal to be suspicious of things that don’t readily feel right. It is wrong to assume they have no value, or less value than the pursuits we prefer.
I am called to serve people already in the church (primarily). I am called to teach, counsel, and guide people through study, prayer, discussion, and the more contemplative types of worship and growth. I find it more difficult to participate in or value things aimed at systemic change or societal growth. My focus is on helping individuals and small groups of people grow their character.
So for me, I need to remind myself these other practices like working for people’s rights, extending love to whole classes of people, and striving to change how our government works are worthwhile endeavors. I can learn from other people who have strengths in these areas. I can follow Jesus’ example in these areas when the opportunities arise.
At the same time, I can help other people find their wholeness also by extending my understanding and receiving this wisdom from them. It is my hope that I can share my love for knowing Jesus more fully, understanding the Bible more clearly, and unraveling the tangles in people’s spirits to make possible the weaving of stronger character in them. By sharing that love, maybe others can benefit from my gifts as I benefit from theirs.
What are your corners of the church and God’s image that you contribute, and what are the areas others can help you value more than you do now?